Seattle's Langston Hughes African American Film Festival stands apart

Apr 24, 2011

If we relied on Hollywood, we’d get a very limited view of African Americans. 

"There’s three models that we have of black people in Hollywood and none of them are any good. The ho, the gangster, the victim. And occasionally you get the saint."

That's Jacqueline Moscou, artistic director of Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. And what she's talking about are films like "Booty Call,"The Book of Eli" and "Precious."

But Moscou says films like these too often overshadow smaller independent movies like “I Will Follow” by Ava DuVernay.

That's an example of an "ordinary film, with ordinary people, that actually have black people in it," she says.

That's also an example of the kind of movie Langston Hughes works hard to promote, especially at its annual Langston Hughes African American Film Festival.

"I think that there are quite a few African American filmmakers and work that if it weren’t for film festivals wouldn’t see the light of day," Moscou says.

Some 40 films over 9 days will be screened at Central Cinema and Garfield High School. The festival aims to show the breadth and diversity of the African American experience.

This year's offerings include "Nice and Rough" by Sheila J. Hardy, a documentary about black women in rock 'n roll.

Also included is the feature film "Children of God" by Kareem Mortimer, which looks at homosexuality and tolerance in the Caribbean;

There's also "23rd & Union" by former Seattlelite Rafael Flores which is a short docudrama that weaves interviews with fictional characters in a story about the 2008 murder of the man who owned "Philly's Cheese Steak."  

The way Langston Hughes champions smaller movies by relatively unknown directors means a lot to Alen Blake, an aspiring filmmaker living in Seattle.

"Really fundamentally, Langston Hughes exists as a kind of beacon to sort of inspire other black filmmakers in the area to know there are others out there. Sometimes it’s difficult to see yourself," Blake says.

When he’s not making a living in I.T., Blake works on films in a basement office out of his Central Area home. But it’s too small a space to host guests so he and his director of photography Chris Duerkopp huddle at a dining room table.

Blake says it’s always a challenge to boil down 90 pages of script into a single line so you can pitch it to funders. Then there’s the business of raising money. And once you've actually shot comes the work needed to promote the film and get it out in front of audiences.  

And that’s how the Langston Hughes film festival can help.

"It’s a huge part of my journey as a filmmaker," says Alrick Brown, whose first feature film, "Kinyarwanda," won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance.

Brown's been showing work at Langston for years and the festival is actually where he met some of his collaborators for his latest project.

He says the Langston Hughes festival stands apart from others.

"Most festivals, no offense to the majority of festivals around the country, but they're not very diverse when you look behind the scenes. Langston Hughes gives us a platform."

“Kinyarwanda” weaves six stories inspired by the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The movie and the filmmaker will open the Langston Hughes African American Film festival Saturday night.